News coverage from nearly two decades ago offers what appears to be the most logical explanation for a partial human jawbone reported found near Seward this week. The discovery had sparked speculation about 65-year-old Michael LeMaitre of Anchorage, who went missing during the July 4, 2012, Mount Marathon Race.

Troopers said Friday it was unlikely the jawbone found about 4 miles from Mount Marathon belonged to LeMaitre, whose disappearance during the state's most popular Independence Day sporting event has left people baffled for two years.

Now an old case has surfaced that links bits and pieces of earlier human remains to the exact same area of the latest discovery.

Seventeen years ago, according to news accounts at the time, the bear-eaten parts of a 39-year-old man were found high in the Tonsina Creek drainage. A retired trooper who recalled that discovery said the remains were in almost exactly the same area where the partially eaten jawbone was discovered this year.

The man involved in the 1997 discovery was never identified by name. At the time he was described by reporter Jon Little only as a "a 39-year-old man, a wanderer from out of state who scribbled reflections and weather reports in a small notebook he packed on his journey.

"Little is known about the man, who apparently kept largely to himself. Troopers have found no friends or family. They do know he was an immigrant from Vietnam whose last known address was a rescue mission in North Little Rock, Ark."

Sgt. Brandon Anderson, the Seward trooper who investigated the case at the time, said the man's bones had been widely scattered by animals that fed on his corpse. Only bits and pieces of the man's body were recovered. Given that, the newest discovery of another remnant bone would not be unexpected.

The man's death is recorded in a listing of Alaska wilderness fatalities as a "bear mauling,'' but there is no way of telling if he was killed by a bear.

Bears have been known to scavenge human remains in Alaska. The bodies of at least two people have been reported to have been eaten in Katmai National Park and Preserve.

Back in 1997, the body found near Seward had been almost wholly consumed by animals, according to reports at the time.

"Most of the clean, white bone fragments troopers found were about the size of a quarter," Little wrote. "The biggest was 6 inches long, and it was splintered, said trooper Sgt. Brandon Anderson.

"'The trouble is, they had all passed largely through a bear,' he said. 'Several animals had been working on what was left because (the bones) were scattered wide."

Troopers did, however, find a passport and driver's license along with torn clothing and a couple of backpacks in the area.

Contact Craig Medred at craig@alaskadispatch.com.